LOS ANGELES — Since it opened in 1999, Staples Center has hosted countless great basketball games, a legacy not lost on the participants of Friday’s 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Classic matchup between No. 25 USC and Oklahoma.
“That’s a legendary place to play. I’ve only seen the outside and all the statues,” Oklahoma freshman Trae Young said following the Sooners’ 97-85 win over UTSA on Dec. 4. Young referred to the monuments to such Los Angeles Lakers legends as Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson that stand outside the venue.
“It’s crazy because I’m still a freshman and getting to do all this so it’s going to be fun. I can’t wait for it.”
On the same floor Kobe Bryant scored 60-plus points on four occasions, the ballyhooed first-year phenom Young leads Oklahoma (6-1) into a potentially pivotal matchup.
Young comes in leading the nation in scoring at 28.7 points per game, and third in assists with 8.7 per game. The Basketball Hall of Fame Classic is a premier platform for one of the nation’s most impressive players early in the season.
Oklahoma is making a trek of about 1,400 miles for Friday’s contest — roughly 1,397 more than USC, which sits just south of Staples Center. The Sooners’ ultimate goal on this trip is not to take in the sights of a “legendary” venue, but rather to extend the woes of a Trojans team that recently fell out of the Top 10.
USC (4-2) dropped its second straight game on Dec. 2, losing at SMU, 72-55. That unfolded quite similarly to the Trojans’ Nov. 26 loss to Texas A&M, as coach Andy Enfield explained to reporters postgame.
“We had trouble making shots again in the second half,” he said.
The Trojans shot just 8-of-22 from the floor after halftime, and a three-point Trojans’ lead at intermission quickly became a double-digit SMU advantage. Against Texas A&M, USC went ice cold from the floor after forcing a 42-42 tie, surrendering a 19-3 run that was essentially the difference in the final result.
Oklahoma comes in allowing opponents to connect on 38.8 percent of 3-point attempts, ranking 292nd in the nation. That could be a difference for USC this time around, after two games in which the Trojans failed to make on 30 percent of their attempts.
Meanwhile, UTSA was the fourth opponent to score at least 80 points against the Sooners in seven games this season. Friday’s game may well provide the catalyst USC needs to reinvigorate its offense — but the Trojans may also have to keep up with the torrent pace at which Oklahoma is playing.
“They’re very skilled, very talented,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said of USC. “Their inside guys are very talented. They’ve got a ton of guys who are very good.”
Jump-starting its offense begins with Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright finding their groove. Metu went just 5 of 14 from the floor against Texas A&M. He was better against SMU — 4-of-7 — but Boatwright is just 6-of-22 over the past two games.
USC will have a size advantage over Oklahoma, but the Sooners’ backcourt of Young and Christian James promises to test the Trojans’ perimeter defense.